Celtics lose ... in more ways than one

749474.jpg

Celtics lose ... in more ways than one

From Comcast SportsNet
ATLANTA (AP) -- The Boston Celtics lost Game 1 -- and they may have lost their floor leader for Game 2. Josh Smith scored 22 points and grabbed 18 rebounds as the Atlanta Hawks built a big lead early, then held on for an 83-74 victory over the Celtics in their opener of the Eastern Conference playoffs Sunday night. But this one will be remembered for what happened in the final minute, not the Hawks' blistering start. While complaining about a call, Boston star Rajon Rondo was ejected for bumping an official and faces a possible suspension when the teams meet again Tuesday night in Atlanta. "I didn't intentionally chest-bump him, but that's what it appears to be," Rondo said. The Hawks, who led by as many as 19 in the first half, were clinging to a four-point lead when Rondo lost his cool with 41 seconds remaining. Boston's Brandon Bass was called for a foul on Smith tussling for a loose ball, with both players sprawled on the court out beyond the foul line. Rondo screamed at official Marc Davis, who quickly called a technical. Rondo then bumped Davis with his chest and was tossed out. A suspension could be coming, too. Rondo, who scored 20 points and dished out 11 assists, clearly appeared to stick out his chest to strike the official. That's a huge no-no and will almost surely draw the wrath of NBA Commissioner David Stern. "It's out of my control," Rondo said. "Obviously, I want to be there for my teammates but other than that, it's out of my control." Getting in some immediate lobbying, Celtics coach Doc Rivers saw things a bit differently than the replay showed. Not surprisingly, he doesn't think Rondo deserves a suspension. "I'm always worried, but I would be surprised if that happens," Rivers said. "I thought Rondo was walking toward Marc, and Marc turned back toward him, and that's when Rondo bumped him. ... That's all it was, in my opinion. But we'll see." Rondo had a similar take. "Obviously I was upset about the call and I said some words to Marc. I deserved the first tech," Rondo said. "As I was walking, I thought he stopped. My momentum carried me into him. I even think I tripped on his foot." At the beginning, the Hawks looked much quicker and faster than the aging Celtics. With every starter outside of Jason Collins contributing at least four points, Atlanta raced to a 20-6 lead with the game just over 5 minutes old. The Hawks twice pushed the margin as high as 19 points and settled for a 49-35 edge at halftime. Smith totally outplayed Boston's Kevin Garnett over the first two quarters, going into the break with 15 points, 11 rebounds and two assists. Garnett had only two points on 1-of-9 shooting. "He was an animal," Atlanta coach Larry Drew said of Smith. "When he's playing with that energy, he just makes us so much better." Smith had to carry the load. The Hawks' other big gun, Joe Johnson, had a miserable night with 11 points on 3-of-15 shooting, committing more turnovers (four) than he made field goals. He was 0 of 9 from 3-point range. The Hawks got sloppy with the ball and made only 19-of-54 shots after their blistering performance in opening quarter. That allowed the Celtics to edge back into the game, and it looked as though they might just pull off the comeback until Rondo's big blunder. "We came out like our jerseys were going to win the game, because we're the Celtics," Rivers said. "You've got to play to win the game." Smith said he was definitely fouled as he scrambled for the loose ball with Bass. "That was the right call they made," Smith said of the potentially series-altering play. "I'm not sure what happened with Rondo. That will be up to the league to see what he did wrong. You never know what's going to happen, but we'll definitely factor him in going to tomorrow." Garnett bounced back to put up 20 points and 11 rebounds. Paul Pierce had only 12 points, going 5 of 19 from the field and missing all six of his 3-point attempts. "For us to win, I have to be a better player," Pierce said. "I was a really big culprit." Both teams were short-handed. Celtics guard Ray Allen missed a playoff game for the first time in his career, watching from the bench in a suit and tie because of an ailing right ankle. He would've already had surgery if it was earlier in the year, but the 36-year-old member of Boston's Big Three is hoping to heal in time for possibly his last hurrah in Beantown. The Hawks, meanwhile, started third-stringer Collins at center. Al Horford missed most of the year with a pectoral injury and has been ruled out for the entire series, and the guy who took his place, rugged Zaza Pachulia, went down late in the regular season with a sprained left foot. Pachulia famously went forehead-to-forehead with Garnett during an opening-round series in 2008, and the Hawks wondered how they would fare without the Georgian's toughness. Just fine, it turned out. Of course, the teams were much more closely matched heading into this series than they were in their last playoff meeting. In 2008, the Celtics won 66 games and were the top seed in the East, setting up for a run to their most recent NBA championship. The Hawks were the eighth seed, a team that went 37-45 and made the postseason for the first time in nine years. Still, they managed to push the Celtics to seven games. This time, Boston won the season series 2-1, the three games decided by a total of 10 points, and Atlanta finished one game ahead in the conference standings to earn home-court advantage. Now the big question is: Will Rondo get to play in Game 2? "I don't think it was on purpose," Pierce said, "but it's up to the league." NOTES: Allen and Pachulia are both listed as day-to-day. ... The Hawks have never beaten Boston in the playoffs since moving to Atlanta in 1968, losing six straight postseason meetings. ... The teams met four times in the finals when the Hawks were based in St. Louis. Boston won three of those series, the Hawks only playoff win over the Celtics a 4-2 triumph to capture the title in 1958.

Quick Links

What will Joe Ross' role be for Nationals in playoffs vs. Dodgers?

What will Joe Ross' role be for Nationals in playoffs vs. Dodgers?

It was just a few weeks ago that Joe Ross' postseason availability was in question, and if he could return in time, whether he would pitch out of the Nationals' bullpen and or as a starter wasn't clear. Manager Dusty Baker wondered aloud if he would get his young right-hander back, even as Stephen Strasburg dealt with elbow injuries.

The progress Ross has made in a short period of time since is remarkable and after his 90-pitch outing on Thursday afternoon against the Diamondbacks, the 23-year-old looks and feels ready for the playoffs, and not just to pitch in relief, either.

"I'm hoping I get the opportunity to start, but that's up to them," Ross said. "But I'll take any opportunity I get to pitch and go out there and compete. I just want to help the team in any way I can."

Ross wasn't great on Thursday in his third start back from the disabled list. He only made it four innings, as his pitch count soared early. But in giving up just one run, he's now pitched 9 2/3 innings in three games back. During that stretch he's allowed three runs and struck out 14.

[RELATED: Wilson Ramos hopes to be back with Nationals]

It has been a process of baby steps for the Nats starter, a slow progression back from right shoulder inflammation, an injury rehab that featured a setback in late July. Now, though, he is essentially back to normal, just in time for the NL Division Series which begins next week.

"I feel good. I felt really good today. I felt really good last start. I guess it's just a point of executing pitches," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind really on whether I can go out and compete."

Baker mentioned that Ross could pitch in releif early in the NLDS against the Dodgers. That could keep him available for a start later on, if it's kept short like a normal bullpen session.

But one has to wonder if Ross has improved his case enough to pitch Game 3 of that series, given Gio Gonzalez' recent struggles. The lefty has allowed 19 earned runs in his last 23 innings going back five starts.

Regardless, Ross has certainly come a long way in just three MLB outings.

"He looks ready," second baseman Wilmer Difo said through an interpreter.

With all the negative injury news the Nationals have received in recent days, between Wilson Ramos' season-ending injury and Strasburg essentially ruled out for the NLDS, having Ross fully back in the mix is a nice change of fortune for the NL East champs.

[RELATED: Matt Belisle sounds like safe bet for Nats playoff roster]

SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE NATIONALS STORIES

Quick Links

Indians-Tigers rainout could complicate Orioles life

Indians-Tigers rainout could complicate Orioles life

After waiting four hours and 13 minutes, the Detroit Tigers’ scheduled game with Cleveland was rained out. Six inches of rain fell at Comerica Field, making it unplayable. 

The Tigers and Indians will have to play on Monday if the wild-card race is undecided. 

That’s not good news for the Orioles. If the Orioles and Detroit tie, a game will then have to played at Oriole Park to decide the second wild-card team, complicating the postseason schedule. 

The Tigers have three games at Atlanta while the Orioles play three at Yankee Stadium. If the Indians-Tigers game is necessary on Monday, the Orioles may have to come back to Baltimore to await the result. 

Of course, the Orioles could make it necessary by winning the final four games of the season, beginning with tonight’s game in Toronto. 

If Orioles win and Tigers losses combine for four, then Detroit is eliminated. 

Seattle, which trails by two games, plays four with Oakland. 

Potentially worse news for the Orioles is that this weekend’s weather forecast in New York is horrible. 

The wild-card game is scheduled for Tuesday, and the Division Series is scheduled for Thursday, so a tiebreaker game between the Orioles and Tigers could certainly complicate things.  

RELATED: Hyun Soo Kim provides biggest hit of Orioles' season